In the splendour and poverty of Yakut “garage”:
A review of Gannibal,
a film by Ivan Krivogornitsyn
Mikhail Bashkirov
The documentary film Gannibal (dir. Ivan Krivogornitsyn, Spik DV Studio, 2018) is not quite the usual fare when it comes to Yakut cinema. First of all because there are unforgivably few documentaries released in Yakutia in general: local filmmakers have traditionally been passionate about feature films, with only very rare exceptions, though the Republic has more than enough in the way of textures and plots suitable for the making of documentaries. Secondly, the rough edges to this film have not been smoothed out, but rather sharpened. It is important to emphasise this, since local “cultural figures” in Russia’s ethnic republics are very often guided by logic that goes something like this: “we are so few, our language and culture are dying, there is no need to denigrate ourselves, we will quietly deal with our problems ourselves, without taking our dirty linen out in public”. And yet this logic is completely absent in Gannibal.

It might seem to some that Krivogornitsyn’s work is a pure “black pill” about how awful and hopeless everything is in the Yakut countryside. But in my opinion, the picture exists in a completely different coordinate system. At the centre of the plot is the life of Gavril Kolesov (Ganya for short – hence the nickname and title Gannibal, the Russian version of “Hannibal”), band leader of Khardyy, a group that rose to popularity in the Sakha Republic in the 1990s. Documentaries about rock bands have developed a long-established canon and set of techniques for how to talk about these bands: unseen footage, the family chronicle of a future rock star, a scandalous TV interview, the last images taken before a tragic death from an overdose, or else footage of the Queen presenting the elderly and portly musician with some official honour. You will find done of this in Gannibal. The only thing this picture has in common with other films about rock musicians is the scenes showing rehearsals and rare performances. That is probably it.
Khardyy are still popular in Yakutia today, but the years and lifestyle have taken their toll. Gannibal resembles a pickled cucumber you might have with your beer. Or a shrivelled old plank from a rickety fence. There is no central storyline running through the entire work. Rather, we have a compilation of news chronicles from the life of Gannibal, filmed at various different points in time. But the integrity of the author’s intention by no means suffers from this. Here Gannibal comes along to a morning show on local television, and is congratulated, this being broadcast on the “Day of the Cultural Worker”. Then he goes to ask about receiving aid at the rural employment centre (being a burns victim). Here we have him drinking on the street, there he is in rehearsals, now he’s smoking out in the yard... Gannibal is set off against a strange character – a naked bald neighbour who practices suffusion and mysterious exercises: he has either reached enlightenment or is a rural holy fool. In the world of Gannibal, the appearance of such a character is quite natural and in its own way very logical. Who else could he have around him, indeed? In contrast to the hard-drinking rocker, his bald neighbour is engaged in self-improvement, but no conflict arises from this. Both accept each other for who they are. But, of course, one should not think that this is some eventless dramaturgy built on omissions, innuendo and hints. Real events are taking place in the life of Kolesov – and big ones at that! For fear of spoiling things, we would better not reveal the nature of the strongest dramatic turn: this is truly shocking and completely deprives the picture of its otherwise everyday aspect.

Russia’s closest musician to Gannibal in terms of persona is probably Konstantin Stupin, or “Stupa”. They even share an outward resemblance: both are men beaten by life who have been through rough times. Their musical languages ​​are somewhat similar too. Only Stupa is more brutal, and Gannibal is more lyrical and melodic. In some ways, Gannibal also comes close to the American garage rock of the 1960s. This movement originated in the United States in the middle of that decade, when hundreds, if not thousands, of bands, unable to use studios, sat in their parents’ garages and strummed guitars with varying degrees of talent. Garage music was completely amateur, sometimes imitating the “big” stars, occasionally producing something original, but always highly sincere. Garage rock was largely provincial; such bands appeared either in the major industrial cities or in small one-storey settlements, but almost never in New York or Los Angeles. Khardyy are likewise not only a provincial, but also a rural group. In Russia, garage found a follower in Yegor Letov, who on many albums reproduced that warm, unkempt sound of the 1960s. I’m sure he would have liked Khardyy.
Surprisingly, the film was born out of a jubilee report that Krivogornitsyn filmed about his countryman for local television (both of them come from the village of Maiya in the Megino-Kangalassky Ulus). It would seem that such television reports, tailored to fit TV patterns and standards, might contradict the concept of the contemporary documentary, but not in the case of Gannibal. This meeting between the author and the hero gave an impetus to filming the documentary, a process which lasted five years. “Vanya’s one of ours, a Maiya lad, a brother and a neighbour. We played football together, and hockey too,” so said the hero of the film after the showing in Yakutsk, “Then the fashion for music came along, and I became a guitarist. A few lads got together, we came up with the name ‘Khardyy’, and off we went. People liked it.” The film was made by Krivogornitsyn alone, with the exception of some frames filmed by cameraman Ivan Rebrov. The budget of the film came entirely out of the personal funds of the author.

In its spirit and style, Gannibal is closest to the school of Marina Razbezhkina. At the same time, Krivogornitsyn did not train under her and, probably, groped towards this manner intuitively. The “Kino-eye” follows the life of Gavril Kolesov at the closest possible distance. Observation is diluted with interview material: Gannibal’s monologues perform not so much a plot-forming function as a clarifying one. The author himself does not interfere in what is happening, but remains silent and puts no pressure on the viewer – either through any “author’s position” or making the slightest comment. Only the captions to the epilogue act to some extent dot the i’s, but even then this is only in relation to the fates and biographies of the members of Khardyy. One died of a heart attack, one froze to death, another was fatally stabbed. The list is a grim one, but not at all unexpected.
Gannibal has been featured at several film festivals. In the competition for the federal “Rossiya” festival, it received a special prize entitled “For love and compassion for the human being”. Some might suppose we were talking about a little man, much beloved of the Russian artistic tradition. But both the hero himself and the film are more complicated than this: Neither Kolesov nor Gannibal fit into the little man’s shoes. Alcoholism and the accompanying poverty, the death of loved ones, ruined health – this is not a scourge with which fate mercilessly beats the old Yakut musician. At some point, during a stormy feast, he makes a seemingly banal toast: “We are all friends and we love our job – music. Let’s drink to that!” These simple words, in my opinion, are a very accurate summary of the hero’s credo. He acts as he does not out of necessity, but out of love. Drunkenness turns out to be a voluntary, completely conscious path to take, or, if you like, a voluntary payment that must be submitted in exchange for talent. Gannibal does not shrug off responsibility for his actions, but equally accepts his own freedom to make choices.